The strong run on Bates Motel continues with this breakthrough episode for Norman Bates (Freddie Highmore). In "Lights of Winter," Norman may finally be ready to confront his demons, although it takes a trip to a strip club to make that momentous change of direction.
Beforehand, Norman remains convinced that his mother, Norma (Vera Farmiga), has been the one killing people, rather than his alter ego "Norma." Trapped in Pineview Institute, he wants to escape, both to bring his lying mother to justice and be there for her when she falls. Meanwhile, Sheriff Alex Romero (Nestor Carbonell) and Norma seem to finally be finding happiness. We all know happiness is fleeting in White Pine Bay.
A Pineview staff member comes in to Norman's locked room to give him his morning meds. He refuses, which means he won't be able to leave the room. Norman has convinced himself that his accusation about his mother means he'll be freed today. Of course, that won't happen, but he thinks it will, so he vomits the meds after the nurse leaves just to be ready for his departure.
Norman's new buddy Julian (Marshall Allman) runs up to him, and he realizes this Pineview vet can serve a purpose. Norman asks for assistance in getting a private call, another no-no for residents. Julian helps him jimmy a door open to use an unmonitored phone. Norman calls Dylan (Max Thieriot), telling him that "mother is in trouble." He wants him to be there for her when the cops come (which they won't, of course). It's a nice, long, engaging pre-credits scene that gets its hooks in the viewer, reminding us how good Highmore has been this season. He's starting to feel honestly dangerous, as if he could kill someone as Norman and not just as "Norma."
Speaking of "mother," she's finding domestic bliss in her new marriage. She cooks breakfast for her new husband, sending him off to work on a full stomach. They seem happy, even if Norma's not quite ready for morning sex like Alex seems to be. He mentions a joint checking account and how he'd like to go to a winter festival in town that night. She's going to run off and visit Emma (Olivia Cooke), who is still recuperating from a lung transplant. Farmiga really makes us root for Norma, even though she's hidden crimes and done some truly awful things. It's nice to see her actually smiling as she finds potential happiness with Alex. We know it won't last, especially as that smile is followed by a shot of the iconic horror house on the hill.
While Norman is trying to talk his way out of Pineview, Dylan visits Emma in Portland. She drops that her family is thinking about moving to Seattle. I hope the show isn't writing out Cooke. She's been a foundational presence for three years, often giving the best performance in specific episodes. It turns out Emma may not be the only character disappearing — she asks Dylan to join her. He seems honored: "If you want me to come, I'm going to go with you." They're cute together. Again, it probably won't last.
Dr. Edwards (Damon Gupton) breaks the news to Norman that he's not going anywhere. Yes, the doctor reported the accusations, but they need to be investigated. Norman is furious. He storms out of the session, trying to barge out the front door before he runs into Julian again. The kid from Prison Break is going to help him escape.
While Norma visits Emma in another cute scene about our two female leads falling in love, Alex is about to realize that his drama with Bob Paris (Kevin Rahm) is far from over. He goes to White Pine Bay Federated Bank after getting an urgent text from his former lover, Rebecca (Jaime Ray Newman), who works there as a manager. Rebecca was also laundering money for Paris, and she's convinced that Alex has the other key needed to open a safe-deposit box with $3 million inside. He denies knowing anything about Bob's death or a mystery key. In a case of pretty bad timing, he tells her how he and Norma will need a joint checking account. Yeesh, Alex. Don't tell your ex to do work for your new relationship, especially after you just lied to her. He comes home and searches his Paris stash in the basement — and yes, he does have the key. Now what?
While Norma is moving on, Norman is breaking out. After Julian plugs the toilet of a resident with OCD, the mess makes enough of a distraction for them to make their escape. (It almost seems too easy, to be honest.) They snatch a key card and run out an emergency exit. As they try to hitch a ride, we learn that Julian has been there four years, constantly escaping and going back. He's been told he has "The Bs: Bipolar, borderline, blah blah blah," but he thinks that his family just doesn't want him around. He has cash and wants to have "an amazing experience."
And Julian's idea of an amazing experience is a classy joint called the Landing Strip, located next to an establishment called the Turf Motel. Julian wants a private dance and heads off to the VIP Lounge, leaving Norman alone in front of a rather elaborate show for a seedy strip club on the outskirts of town. (White Pine Bay apparently has one bank but a pretty impressive burlesque industry.) Anyway, Norman, the guy who doesn't respond well when his libido is fired up, is now alone in a strip club. That can't be good.
Speaking of people in trouble, Alex gets a call from the DEA about Bob Paris. They followed a money trail to Rebecca and White Pine Bay Federated. Alex claims not to know Rebecca well, denying any personal relationship. Will that lie come back to hurt him? He heads out to the winter carnival, looking happy with Norma. She looks beautiful, and the pair seem to smile more this episode than in most full seasons, even after Norma has an encounter with Rebecca. Norma is clad in gray and Rebecca in striking red, a brilliant way to visually offset the two characters. The costume design on this show has long been some of the best on TV, subtly enhancing character, setting, and theme.
Back to the Landing Strip, where Norman meets a lovely lady named Athena. She gives him the VIP pitch, and the entranced young man is sold. She pushes him down for a lap dance, forcing him to take the screwdriver out of his pocket. Yeah, that's not creepy or foreboding at all. She takes off her top and he flashes back to Blair Watson (Keegan Connor Tracy), another woman who stimulated Norman sexually and wound up dead at the end of season one. Will he kill Athena? Isn't there any security here? He turns into "Norma," referring to Norman in the third person ("This isn't the place for Norman. It's not the sort of thing he should be doing."). Just as it starts to get scary, Athena mentions role-playing, which "Norma" seems to like. Athena calls her pretty and puts her feather boa around her neck. They kiss but are interrupted by a ruckus in the hall. There's the security. Julian went too far and gets pummeled by the guards, one of whom takes the time to punch "Norma" in the face, too, crashing her into a nearby mirror. Norman seems to return next to the shattered glass; the look on his face suggests revelation.
Before we can figure that out, Alex and Norma come home to find their house broken into and destroyed. Someone was looking for something. The key? Has Alex brought his problems home to Norma? Who thought he would end up being the troublesome one?
Finally, Norman is in an ambulance, still wearing Athena's boa. Dr. Edwards arrives, putting a blanket on him and explaining what happened. Norman blacked out. He doesn't even remember. Upset and exhausted, he's slowly realizing the depth of his mental illness. As he cries, he admits, "I don't trust what I think is real." He finally wants to get help. Is it too late? We already know the answer.
- Do you think the show plans to write out Emma and Dylan? Will you be upset?
- Now that Norman knows the depth of his psychosis, what will he reveal to Dr. Edwards? Could he confess to murder?
- In many ways, "Lights of Winter" feels the least Hitchcock-esque of the season to date. It has a different, more modern tone from the first three. That's fine, of course. Bates Motel doesn't always need to be a visual homage to the master, and I like when a show mixes it up.
- The VIP room stuff gave me a flashback to a time when this actually played on MTV. Enjoy.